Authorise probe of spending $16bn on electricity by Obasanjo government, SERAP tells CJN

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Transparency group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accoun3, has sent a letter to the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, requesting him to urgently “to appoint an independent counsel to investigate allegations of corruption in the spending of $16 billion on electricity by the government of former President Olusegun Obasanjo between 1999 and 2007.”

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SERAP said the request was brought “pursuant to Section 52 of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act 2000, and the letter and spirit of the Act, and the object and purpose of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).”

The letter dated November 24, and signed by SERAP senior staff counsel Timothy Adewale, says that, “a Parliamentary Hearing by the House of Representatives in Abuja over the spending of $16 billion between 1999 and 2007 on the power project revealed through testimonies of witnesses appearing before the Committee that the $16 billion budgeted for the power project may have been stolen by some state officials and others, and cannot be accounted for.”

According to the organisation, “Section 52 of the Corrupt Practices Act requires the Chief Justice of Nigeria to authorise an independent counsel to investigate any allegation of corruption against high level public officials—at the federal or state level–and to report his findings to the National Assembly or appropriate house of assembly.”

The letter reads in part: “We believe that the above highlighted findings by the Parliamentary Hearing have sufficiently demonstrated good cause invariably justifying your intervention in the matter. We therefore urge you to interpret this provision robustly and flexibly in the light of the unique role of the judiciary in the efforts to prevent and combat corruption and its destructive effects on the society.”

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“We believe your urgent intervention will contribute to improving the integrity of government and public confidence and trust in their government. It would also serve as a vehicle to further the public’s perception of fairness and thoroughness, and to avert even the most subtle of influences that may appear in an investigation of highly-placed executive officials.”

“We also urge you to be guided not by technicalities of ICPC Act but by the overall public interest involved in the enjoyment of the right to regular and uninterrupted electricity supply by millions of Nigerians, and the spirit and letter of the constitution. In particular, Chapter 2 of the 1999 Constitution dealing with Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy, high-level public officials have a clear obligation to “eradicate all corrupt practices and abuse of power.”

“SERAP also notes that lack of access to uninterrupted energy/electricity services has forced many citizens to use and collect frequently contaminated surface water for drinking and household uses; and denied the citizens the ability and services for boiling, purifying, disinfecting, and storing water, as well as for irrigation to increase the productivity of lands, thereby decreasing the availability of food supplies and undermining employment opportunities.”

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“Furthermore, the constitution also prohibits the exploitation of Nigeria’s human and natural resources for any reasons other than for the good of the community.” This position is well supported by the provisions of the UN Convention against Corruption to which Nigeria is a state party. In exercising your statutory and constitutional responsibilities, we urge you to work very closely with both the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC).”

“SERAP notes that the failure by successive governments to tell Nigerians the truth about allegations of corruption in the spending of $16 billion on electricity supply amounts to a failure to ensure that energy services/electricity services are progressively made available, on the basis of equality and non-discrimination, to the whole population, including those most disadvantaged, such as the fringe dwellers and the rural poor.”

“SERAP also notes that allegations of corruption in the energy sector have resulted in the epileptic and interrupted supply of electricity and corresponding deprivation and denial of the citizens’ access to quality healthcare, adequate food, shelter, clothing, water, sanitation, medical care, schooling, and access to information.”

“The Parliamentary Hearing which took place in Abuja between Tuesday, March 11 and Wednesday, 12 March, 2008 also revealed that: Mr. Bernerd Mensen, the Chief Executive Officer of Lameyer, a German firm was paid N370 million (out of the total contract sum of N600m) just to do a feasibility study on a power station, but he confessed that he had never visited the site of the Mambilla Hydro-Electric Power Project in Taraba State.”

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“The information from the hearing also revealed that N200m of the N370m collected was spent to build a bungalow at Gembu, apparently to create the impression that work was in progress, but the project was later abandoned. One of the witnesses who gave evidence at the hearing said that the ground-breaking was done at Gembu, about 25kilometers from the Mambilla; and that they never got to the Mambilla at all. The witness also disclosed that the sample of oil Lameyer collected for test was dumped at somebody’s compound, and that Lameyer did nothing to implement the project.”

“The Mambilla power plant was envisaged to generate 2,600 megawatts of electricity. According to the hearing, the contracts awarded for the Kainji, Egbin, Afam and Ugehli power stations were never executed but the PHCN, in its report to the hearing on how it spent its budgetary allocations between 1999 and 2007, quoted the contracts as part of the work done. The hearing also revealed that there were about nine of such contracts, totalling $142m.”

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